Solarized Portrait of Lee Miller, c.1929 by Man Ray
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Man Ray was an important part of the birth of surrealism in the 1920s. His photography pushed the boundaries of the medium and moved it away from commonplace pictorialism. It’s not news that he created many new photographic techniques, but right now we are totally crushing on Solarization.

Solarization occurs when a photographic print is partially developed and then exposed to white light. So the image recorded on a negative (or on a photographic print) is wholly or partially reversed in tone. Simply put, the dark areas appear light and light areas appear dark.

This technique was actually discovered somehow as a “happy accident” in Man Ray’s darkroom with his assistant and lover Lee Miller (pictured above). Lee was a student of Man Ray. One day Miss Miller was in the darkroom developing images when she felt something move across her foot. In a panic, she switched on the light and exposed all the images! Man Ray then saved the images and checked them out later. Basically he discovered that backgrounds were dark but there was a clear line between the white body and the background. This is what he called Solarization. Man Ray then worked on perfecting the technique.

man ray solarisation 1931 SOLARIZATION CRUSH

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You may have also heard about The Sabattier Effect. This takes solarization a wee bit further. In addition to the overall tone reversal it includes a narrow band of low density, which is formed at the edges between adjacent highlight and shadow areas. This white band, or Mackie Line, appears around areas of high contrast. It was a popular darkroom technique for a while,…

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Shanna June

Shanna June

Community Manager
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